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Rotation policy has put Liverpool in a spin

Rotation policy has put Liverpool in a spin

By Alan Hansen

Last Updated: 12:30am BST 08/10/2007

Six weeks ago, Liverpool had just beaten Derby County 6-0 at Anfield and the hope and optimism surrounding the club went through the roof with real expectation that this could finally be the year that, for the first time since 1990, the title would be heading back to Merseyside.

Yet four league games later, Liverpool are playing like a team of strangers with their confidence draining away. They got out of jail with a 91st-minute equaliser against Tottenham yesterday.

Steven Gerrard
Feeling the strain: Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard

One of my former managers at Liverpool, Joe Fagan, once remarked that football was a simple game with simple explanations and simple team selections. The easier you make it, the easier it is to go on long winning runs, but it is all down to simplicity of selection.

Ever since the Derby result, though, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has continued his rotation policy by making four or five changes for every game that his team play. Rotation is great when you are winning because nobody can criticise it, but once you start struggling, people will automatically go and look for the reason why and, during those last four games, Liverpool have never had the same team twice.

After winning at Sunderland and then pummelling Derby, I feel that Rafa really missed a trick when he selected his team for the following game against Portsmouth at Fratton Park. The fact that the match came straight after an international break didn't help, but his team were winning with confidence and we all expected to see Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres at Portsmouth, yet none of them started.

Portsmouth is a tough place for any team to go and get a result, but Liverpool could have gone there, played their best team and achieved the victory that would have put out a real statement.

As it was, they failed to score, then had another goalless draw at home to Birmingham before narrowly beating Wigan and then losing at home to Marseille with a horrific performance in the Champions League in midweek. So just six weeks after the huge optimism, it is beginning to be doom and gloom.

Since the international break, Steven Gerrard has not been at his best and the surging runs haven't been there, but the team have not played well either, and it is not a good sign that Liverpool's results and performances have dropped off with Gerrard's own displays.

And Peter Crouch continues to be left out of the team and not even on the bench. We are all looking in from the outside wondering what the situation is because Crouch has shown time and again that he can change games in the final 20 minutes, but Benitez has his ideas about every player and maybe he has made his mind up about him.

As the manager, Benitez is entitled to listen to nobody, but with the recent results, he has to look at the problem and find a solution, but the obvious solution from where I am would be to stop rotating his players so much.

Benitez appears to have too many considerations in his mind when he picks his team. He thinks about who Liverpool are playing next week, if his players are tired, how they played last week and how their opponents play.

But the guys that I played under at Liverpool would simply have picked their best team and Benitez needs to do that for the next five or six games and hope that his players play themselves out of their poor run. The fact that he has only named one unchanged team in 153 games amazes me, so I guess the chances of him now keeping the same team for six games are pie in the sky.

There is no question that rotation has to happen in the modern game, but my experience is that tiredness doesn't affect players when they are winning, yet if you tell a player he is tired, then he will be. It is all psychological. When I was at Liverpool, we never heard the word 'tired'.

The one trophy that everybody at Liverpool wants more than any other is the Premier League and that is why people will suddenly grasp any belief that this could be the year. And despite the recent poor performances, let's not forget that Liverpool have still not lost a Premier League game this season.

Benitez's ideas about rotation revolve around having his players fit and fresh towards the end of the season, yet when it comes down to it, there is no point having your players fit and flying when there is nothing left to play for.

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